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Why invest in micro-breaks

Discover how short breaks throughout the day improve performance and reduce stress


Have you noticed that your mood and productivity wane when when there's no time to take a break?


These days back-to-back virtual meetings, high workloads and tight deadlines mean there is often only just enough time to quickly grab something to eat at your desk before moving onto the next task.


It's hard to remember we are not machines. We're not designed to be sat down, focusing and processing all day.


Without restorative breaks our ability to think creatively and make decisions diminishes.


The simple truth is all work requires energy and effort. To think think, feel and do well, we need to rest and recharge throughout the day.


I see actions that sustain and support us like credits to an account.

 

By investing time in actions that replenish us, we restore balance and recover capacity to continue to meet the day’s demands. Without regular credits, just like a bank account, we can find ourselves becoming overdrawn.

Unsplash: Vitaly Gariev


The science of recovery

All work effort draws from our internal resources (mental, physical and psychological energy) and, due to corresponding changes in the body's systems, set off strain reactions (stress, mental fatigue, low mood).


Such changes are reversible, provided what’s caused them is stopped sufficiently long enough that actions that facilitate recovery can take place.

It’s been found that depleted resources can be replenished through rest, relaxation and doing things that help take our minds off work, give us a sense of control and/or mastery.


The restorative value of micro-breaks

We tend to think that recovery can only occur outside of working hours but recent research has found that recovery can be done whilst working and, is becoming increasingly necessary, for the knowledge worker.

 

Termed recovery or micro-breaks, such timeouts when filled with appropriate actions can reduce the effects of cumulative cognitive, physical, and psychological strain.


Done regularly, these ten minute recovery activities can return the body's systems and processing capacity to pre-demand levels, benefiting both our productivity and our health.


By taking a break from work demands, we rest the thinking part of the brain, reset the nervous system, restore energy and ready for the next push.


Micro-break investment options

The key to successful recovery is doing things that require little social, physical, or intellectual demand and/or enable you to relax.


A. Change your state

As we go about our day, depending on what happens and how we think about it, our mood can reduce.


Whilst we may think that how we feel is out of our hands, we can improve our mood by doing something we enjoy or gives us a sense of mastery/control. This is termed behaviour activation.


How: clean/tidy/organise something, ave a shower, journal, play an instrument, watch a funny video (bonus boost if it includes cute animals or children) or choose from any of the activities below that feel good to you.


B. Connect with others

We are social animals. Depending on how your day has shaped up perhaps you’ve had enough of people already but, if you’re feeling isolated then using these options can help fill the connection and belonging need we all have.


How: call to check-in with your partner/family/child, write a card to someone you care about, virtual coffee with friends/colleagues (no work talk allowed!)


C. Move your body

We are made for movement. Sitting down for long periods stresses our spine, hips and shoulders. It decreases blood flow in the legs and slows metabolism which impacts our ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down fat.


Bringing more movement into your day eases the body and energises the brain.


How: brief exercises (planks, push-ups, squats etc), chair yoga, dance to favourite tune, go for a short walk, stretches.


D. Relax

Regularly taking time to relax relieves psychological and physical tension.


When we relax, our heart rate and blood pressure reduce, our minds become clearer and we find ourselves feeling calmer. In this state we are better able to cope, concentrate and think creatively.


How: breathwork, listen to calming music/natural sounds, doodle/mindful colour, have a desk nap, meditate, progressive muscle relaxation, read a book/blog, visualise a place of calm/beauty, sit outside.


Investing well

The trick is to take recovery breaks ahead of needing one.


When working with clients to build micro-breaks into their working days, I encourage them to trial activities and timings to find what works best for them.


Some things to consider when planning your breaks

  • Working memory is quickly overwhelmed, the brain is thought to need downtime every 50-90 minutes to process what we've been working on.

  • A break from one screen does not mean you should pick up another!

  • Consider using a timer when working. The Pomodoro technique consists of taking a 5 minute break every 25 minutes with a longer break (15-30 mins) after four working intervals.

  • When we say yes to one thing, we’re saying no to other things.

  • By the time you notice your inability to concentrate or pain in your back, the point at which a 10 minute break would benefit has passed. Now you need a longer pause.

  • Put yourself (your breaks and what you will do) on your to-do list.

  • Successful micro-break investors make appointments in their electronic calendars so that break time is ring-fenced.

  • Use the same recovery principles when you take your lunch break, that 30-60 minutes midway break is vital for wellbeing too.


Summary

Work is taxing. All effort depletes mental, physical and psychological energy reserves.


Such deficits are reversible, provided what’s caused them is stopped sufficiently long enough that actions that facilitate recovery can take place.


Short recovery breaks, when threaded throughout our working day, help sustain us and reduce the likelihood of finishing work moody and mentally tired.


Take care of you.


Wondering how and where you might schedule micro-breaks in your day? I can help you develop recovery rituals that support wellbeing and maximise productivity. Message me about developing a micro-break habit.

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